Bonus Chapter #3, Rintalas
In the center of a leagues-long tunnel beneath thousands of spans of solid stone was no place for an elf.
“Half-elf,” Rintalas growled, annoyed at himself for thinking of the very slur too many of his friends used to get a rise out of him.
Of course, for a half-elf with his background, it was almost the perfect place to be. The crimson light of Kaustere was the last thing he wanted to see. He would take this pitch darkness over that hated light any day. Especially since he was not nearly so blind here in the deep tunnel as many of him compatriots would have been. His elven blood gave him a distinct edge
He looked about the wide tunnel which to his night vision appeared as almost infinitesimal shades of gray. Occasionally he would see something living, something with the heat of life, which would appear in shades of blue, red, or purple, depending on how much natural heat the living body generated.
He still found it odd, even now, after more than a century of life, how the night vision worked. Was it magical in nature? Something passed down from the ancient elves back in the days when sorcery didn’t steal life from its users? Was it some quirk of nature? Had there been a time that the elves, like the dwarves, had reason to see well in darkness? Was it something that developed on account of their environment at some point in the distant past?
With a shrug, he accepted he wasn’t likely to even learn the answers to those questions. Especially since the last thing he wanted to do was have an actual conversation with an elf. He would much rather kill them than speak with them.
A sound reached his ears, something soft and echoing that he couldn’t decipher over his own bootsteps. He froze and waited, simultaneously hoping to hear it again and not to hear it again.
He held his breath, hoping that would allow him to decipher the sound more clearly.
Had he imagined it? He didn’t think so, his imagination had never been that active before. Especially not here in this deep, isolated tunnel which had no reason to support anything living.
Again, the sound came, and his blood ran like ice.
The low clicking reminded him of a child’s rattle, but that the repetitions were irregular and sounded more like bone against bone than stone against wood. What could possibly be down here making such a sound?
He strained his eyes looking down the tunnel, the sound coming from straight ahead. But how far? He couldn’t be certain. For all he knew, the sound could be originating far beyond his exit from the tunnel. With the acoustic quality of the tunnel, it was too difficult to tell how far away the sound could be coming from. It could be two dozen spans or two hundred leagues. He had no idea how to tell just how far the sound could be echoing from.
Gritting his teeth in frustration, he moved on down the tunnel. With no better option at hand, he determined to force himself to stay alert and keep his eyes open for anything ahead, resigning himself to watching for movement and life for the rest of the journey.
Bonus Chapter #4, Rintalas
Rintalas had no way to determine how long it had been since last he’d slept. Perhaps an hour, perhaps a week. It felt more like the latter, but with no light, no clock, no daily activity, and no sleep, he couldn’t begin to guess.
Over time, the clicking he had been hearing had transformed into a low chittering. The longer he listened to it, the more it sounded like language of some kind. What sort of creature could make such a sound?
He did not wish to find out, but with each step he felt certain he was going to. He prayed that when it happened he was awake and alert enough to handle whatever it was.
During a lull when the chittering was absent, he carefully stepped across the loose stones scattered across the path of the tunnel. The soft scratching of the tiny stone on the flat ground made him cringe. What were the chances that whatever the creatures out there were, that they had acute enough hearing to have heard the scraping stone?
Breathing a silent sigh, he continued on his way with care. The chances were high enough as it was that whatever was out there was going to find him. The last thing he needed was to attract their attention any more than his mere presence so obviously was.
His muscles ached. From the soles of his feet to his calves, into his thighs, taut back and shoulders, everything ached. He must have been walking for a very long time. He couldn’t remember ever having been so tired before. Was it an effect of the constant darkness, or had he truly been walking for such a long time?
Between the aches and pains and the admittedly inaccurate sense of his internal clock, he felt certain he had been going for days. How much farther to the end of the tunnel?
The trip over the top of the mountain took months, so they said. Not only did one have to navigate the labyrinthine spires of jutting rock for the thousands of spans upward into the clouds to reach the summit of the Spine, but then one would have to find a way across to the other side, then navigate the treacherous falls from the other side, all while avoiding the myriad tribes of ogres, trolls, goblins, and other, less savory creatures. It was not wonder the minotaur people had stopped raiding the other side of the Spine of the World centuries ago.
The trek under the mountain, however, was much quicker. Less than a fortnight, he had been told. All he need do was follow the map. The greatest danger beneath the mountain was getting lost, they had said.
Well, Rintalas was having his doubts about the veracity of that claim. Whatever it was down here with him, it did not sound friendly.
Sliding stones sounded behind him and he spun about. A small slide of loose rocks crumbled from the side of the tunnel wall to form a waist-high pile covering almost half of the path and… what was that?
The image had vanished so quickly, Rintalas was not certain if he had truly seen what he thought he saw. The bulbous mass of flesh came and went so fast, he couldn’t be certain it was ever really there.
Was him mind playing tricks on him? Was he deep enough into the throes of exhaustion to be imagining such things?
I need sleep, he thought, feeling groggier than ever.
With a shake of his head to try to wake himself up a bit, he attempted to calculate how much longer he would be in the tunnel before reaching his destination.
He had been going for… well, he couldn’t be certain. His internal clock insisted he had been in this tunnel for months. His food supply, on the other hand, suggested it was closer to nineteen days. His hopes soared. If that was accurate, if he hadn’t been overeating during his time here in the darkness, then he was within a day of his destination. Could that be true?
Grinning now, he turned back to the path forward and froze.
“By the Horns of Mephisto,” he whispered. Standing before him on the path toward his destination were no less than five purple, bulbous shapes.
The sounds he had been hearing as echoes for what he felt certain now had been days sounded from each creature as a fleshy chittering. Each made the sounds in turn and there was some back and forth between two of them while he stared in shock at the creatures. What where they? Having only his night vision to go on, it was difficult for him to say exactly what type of creatures they might be.
He put his hands up. “Whoa there,” he said, trying to force all the tension from his voice. “Whatever this is, there is no need for this to turn violent. I won’t hurt any of you.”
The center creature shrieked, the warbling sound higher in pitch than anything Rintalas had ever heard.
Nervously, he looked around, wondering if this shriek was a call to bring others of its kind. He huffed a frustrated sigh. “Come on now, I’d be willing to bet your understand me. Just let me go. I haven’t done anything to hurt you. And I won’t. You just have to let me go.”
The creatures to the sides crowded closer to Rintalas, their thin, spindly legs creaking strangely with their movements and clicking as they touched the floor.
Of the legs, Rintalas could see nothing, but based on the sound he assumed each leg probably ended in a claw. A rather strong and sharp claw, unless he was much mistaken.
“Okay,” he said, taking a step back. “So what happens now? I have important work to do, so whatever it is, lets be quick about it.”
All five creatures issued undulating chitters. It sounded almost like laughter.
This does not bode well, Rintalas thought.
Before he could make up his mind what to do, the creatures leaped toward him.
In a flash, he held twin swords in his hands and used one to block a creature’s teeth from locking around his thigh while he stabbed another through the center of its bulbous body to a wailing shriek more terrible than anything he had ever heard.
Trying to ignore the agony in that wail, Rintalas leaped over the remaining creatures and bolted passed them. One creature slashed an almost invisible leg at him and slashed through his breeches to open the flesh of his lower leg.
Trying to ignore the burning pain in his leg, Rintalas ran as fast as he could away from the creatures. The clicking of their claws against the stone told him they pursued him, he only hoped he could either outrun them or get to the end of the tunnel before they caught him.
A tiny glint of light ahead gave him hope. There was no guarantee the light came from the exit he needed, it could be any one of a thousand exits from the tunnel, but he prayed it was the exit he needed.
The gray stone flashed by his sides in a blur, a rocky protrusion ahead looked with a talon reaching out to slash at him.
He passed it by without incident. It was only a strange shape in the stone, not a massive creature attacking him after all.
Ignoring the burning sensations in his leg and lungs, Rintalas ran on, pushing himself as fast as he could. His breath came in short gasps, and the light ahead didn’t seem to be getting any closer. He thrust his doubts to the back of his mind and focused on his breathing. It wouldn’t do to hyperventilate while running for his life.
Daring a glance behind him, he found eight of the small purple creatures following him. “Dammit,” he gasped, then put all his energy and attention back into running.
He had little doubt he could vanquish the creatures, even though there were now eight of them. He was skilled enough with his dual blades that surviving a fight with the small creatures was not a high concern. No, what he was concerned with was his exhaustion and the strong likelihood that there were more, quite likely many more, of the creatures out there. Already, five had become eight. There were probably a dozen more that he couldn’t see. And how many more were coming?
Based on the two-part bodies he had glimpsed with their long, spindly, single-clawed legs, and generally chittery vocalizations, he was fairly certain these were arachnids of some sort. Probably spiders. Though what sort, he could only guess. The point, though, was that with how many there were, they were probably young. How many more could there be? Dozens? Hundreds? And more importantly, too many agonized wails from them might bring an adult. An adult that he had no way of guessing how large it might be. These things’ parents could be so large they barely fit in the tunnel for all he knew.
He had never heard, from anyone who had traversed this tunnel, of any giant spiders living down here, but clearly they did. And the last thing he needed just now was to encounter a giant spider so large that he couldn’t even get past it to continue on down the tunnel.
Therefore, he ran.
Once Again, I hope you are enjoying these excerpts. Just a reminder that these are (mostly) unedited, so there are bound to be mistakes and things that will be changed.
Also, do remember that while the finished book will be available everywhere ebooks are sold, I’m not doing pre-orders on Amazon due to peculiarities of Amazon that make doing so not beneficial. If you’d like to pre-order on another retailer, you may do so here: books2read.com/calamity1-shadow